I’m very happy to bring to you a courageous woman and brilliant writer, Therese Borchard. She is author of the new book Beyond Blue and also pens the award winning blog Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes. Her blog also often appears on Psychcentral.com and the Huffington Post. The brave writings have caught my heart and apparently many others as they’ve been cited in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Psychology Today, Redbook, Salon.com, and many more. Therese is the editor of The Imperfect Mom, and I Love Being a Mom: Treasured Stories, Memories and Milestones. With Michael Leach, she is co-editor of A Celebration of Married Life and the national bestseller I Like Being Catholic.
So without further ado:
Elisha: In your new book Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression and Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes, you offer us a courageous, sober, and humorous look into your life and your real life hurdles and blessings. I think one reason people love you so much is that you’re willing to share what most people keep hidden, so we feel connected to you. Why do you choose to be so “naked before the readers…?”
Therese: Thank you, Elisha, for such a kind introduction and an invitation to be interviewed on your wonderful blog. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I would have had the courage to become transparent if I hadn’t been through so much pain. After about 18 months of intense, suicidal thoughts, I finally told God that if I ever woke up one morning and wanted to be alive, that I would dedicate my life to helping those in the same kind of pain. That morning came, and, ironically, a few months later, I was asked to write a blog on depression and spirituality for the site Beliefnet.com.
I remember the exact moment when I stopped caring so much what other people thought of me. I was hospitalized the second time, at Johns Hopkins. The man in the room next to me was beating his head against the walling, wailing that he couldn’t go on. He had been hospitalized for a year. I called my mentor and friend, Mike Leach, from my room and cried to him about being such a failure. “What happened to me?” I asked him. “I used to be successful.” He told me none of it mattered. Not in the end. That even if I was never able to work again, or drive the kids to school, that I would have a full life because I was loved … by him, by Eric (my husband), and by so many others … and that the people who love me don’t care what I do or make of my life. I guess the miracle of that moment is that I believed him, and trusted him. And go the courage to write what comes from the heart without worrying so much about what other people think.
Elisha: There’s a lot of stigma around mental illness and from your writings I know you’ve heard your share. This stigma can reinforce deep feelings of shame and deepen the grooves of the thoughts of “failure.” Can you share with us a few of these statements, how they’ve affected you and what people should do when they hear them?
Therese: This is ultimately why I wrote the book … to educate people in hopes that we can eliminate some of the stigma. When I was getting ready to send out copies, I made a list of the people who would really “get it” and appreciate the book. I wasn’t going to give a copy to the family members and friends who I thought would shake their head and say something under their breath about victim me being caught up in my wounds. But Eric said to me, “It’s easier to give this to the folks who will agree with you. If you are serious about this mission of educating people about mental illness, I suggest you give it to those who might be confused or ticked off.” So I did. And I received some cold, apathetic responses. I expected that. But a neighbor approached me in tears and said she better understood a family member, and a good friend of mine called me up in tears. “I know I must have been one of those people who said hurtful things to you, and I am so sorry,” she said. “I just really had no idea what you were dealing with until I read this.”
One of the most hurtful statements was when a friend asked me, “Do you WANT to get better?” which suggests that getting better is only a matter of willing ourselves to get better, and that if I stayed suicidal for two years it was because I wasn’t trying hard enough. I think, if someone says something like that to me again, I might say, “Does a person with cancer or diabetes want to get better? Would you fault a person because their chemo wasn’t as effective as it should be? Mood disorders are organic illnesses, too, that can’t always be managed with will power and discipline.” Another confusing statement is that antidepressants and other medicine merely suppress your emotions. I have done a fair amount of research on that, so to that person, I would say, “If you are taking too much of a drug or are on the wrong one, maybe, but my experience is that they have allowed me to feel more deeply.”
Elisha: On The Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog I like to take a quote on Mondays and explore how it might be meaningful to our everyday lives. In your book you quote Ghandi saying “The only devils in the world are those running in our own hearts.” Can you give us the meaning behind this quote for you?
Therese: This quote has been helpful regarding facing my fears. The earlier chapters of my book chronicle all of the disorders I experienced as a child and teenager-OCD, anorexia, substance abuse. I kept running away from the sadness and the depression, which would morph into these other illnesses. So when I finally sat tight long enough to feel the raw depression, that’s when I could begin to heal. As you know well, I think taking a moment of silence to pray or meditate or center ourselves everyday should be part of everyone’s treatment … because when we stop running, we are able to hear what we most need to be whole.
Thank you so much Therese for all your wonderful work!